Abuse cases end quietly for diocese 5 lawsuits settled out of court
Michael Clancy The Arizona Republic Jan. 26, 2006 12:00 AM
The Phoenix Diocese quietly has reached out-of-court settlements in five sex-abuse lawsuits filed in Maricopa County, paying out $375,000 to the victims. Each of the cases was settled in the past six months.
"Bishop (Thomas J.) Olmsted would like to put these matters behind us, and we are working very hard to do that," said Mike Haran, attorney for the diocese.
Olmsted said, "Our primary goal concerning these settlements is to foster healing and reconciliation."
He added, "We believe the settlements were fair and appropriate."
The diocese also has resolved four cases filed in Tucson. Remaining are 17 lawsuits, 10 filed locally and seven in California.
Mark Kennedy, who received a settlement, said ending his case brought "healing and wellness."
"I was overcome by a sense of forgiveness for everyone who hurt me," he said.
But another recipient, John Starkey, said the entire matter "is one of the worst things that has ever happened in my life, much more damaging then the actual abuse."
"The diocese is never going to admit they were wrong or apologize for it," Starkey said.
Phoenix contributed $200,000 to the Tucson Diocese's bankruptcy pool to settle the four lawsuits that occurred when Phoenix was part of the Tucson Diocese.The total of $575,000 does not include all the costs associated with the cases. The diocese retains an outside law firm to handle the cases in court, and it pays counseling costs for victims and their assailants. It also pays stipends to suspended priests. Olmsted said the diocese is using insurance money and unrestricted operating funds to pay the settlements.
The diocese acknowledged, in a national survey released in September 2003, that it previously had paid out $2.7 million related to abuse costs, including the settlement of 14 lawsuits for $1.8 million. All of the settled cases, as well as those that are pending, were filed since 2003, and many of them recount familiar tales of Catholic priests grooming and then molesting the plaintiffs. None of the priests remain in active ministry, but only one has been laicized, or removed from the priesthood. Three of them have died, and two others officially left the priesthood.
Of the 26 total cases, victims have been made public in only nine. One of the five who reached a settlement has never been identified.
Those who settled are:
Victor DiGiovine, who accused the Rev. Saul Madrid of abusing him in 1987 when both were at SS. Simon and Jude Cathedral in Phoenix. Madrid never faced criminal charges. DiGiovine received $75,000.
Kennedy, who claimed abuse at the hands of the Rev. Patrick Colleary in 1979 while Colleary visited his home. Colleary is facing criminal charges in connection with other victims. He lives in his native Ireland, where extradition proceedings failed. Kennedy received $100,000.
Ben Kulina, who was abused by the Rev. John Giandelone in 1979 and 1980. Giandelone was convicted in the case in March 2003 and spent 13 months in prison. Giandelone, who served two previous sentences, has left the priesthood. Kulina received $110,000.
Starkey cited abuse in 1985. The Rev. Joseph Lessard, his abuser, served three years' probation in a plea agreement after then-Bishop Thomas J. O'Brien requested leniency for the priest. Lessard remained an active priest, spending much of his career as a hospital chaplain in Illinois, until he was removed permanently from ministry in 2002. Starkey received $50,000.
An unidentified victim of the Rev. Karl LeClaire in 1993 received $40,000 from the diocese. LeClaire, a member of the Salvatorian religious order, is serving a year in prison for a separate case.
Kulina declined to discuss his settlement. Kennedy was more forthcoming, saying the money was less important to him than the closure.
Starkey said he would have been better off never talking about his situation.
"My self-image was so shot by the end of this, I just wanted out," he said. "Wish I had a happy story, but my life now is hell."
Only one of the four people receiving settlements through Tucson has been identified. He is Thomas Groom, who was abused as a child at St. Gregory Parish in Phoenix. Those settlements are as high as $425,000.
David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, said there is no "average" award. Very few civil cases have gone to trial because juries have awarded settlements in the millions of dollars, he said, and that gives the church motivation to settle.
On the other hand, "Many times, an abuse survivor faces tremendous financial and family pressure to settle, coupled with an emotional need to move forward," Clohessy said.
Haran said the Phoenix cases have been settled "one at a time," rather than in a group as other dioceses have done, including Tucson, Orange County and Boston.
"It is the way we have done it," he said. "No one has proposed doing it any other way. Each case is different on its merits."
Paul Pfaffenberger, local director of SNAP, said he would have preferred to see the cases settled as a group because he believes each victim would have been better served.
He said he did not know of any lawsuits about to be filed, "but I have heard of plenty who have chosen not to file because they believed it would not serve their needs."
As a result, he said, the number of civil cases tends to lag far behind the actual number of abuse cases.